This is a prophetic question I sensed the Lord stirring in my heart in recent days. All around I encounter people who communicate a deep hunger for God, but they seem stuck in legacy church situations that range somewhere between challenging and toxic. Yet because of a false sense of loyalty or maybe just religious routine they march to lifeless "houses of worship" week after week and blow their time, treasure and virtue. Why? I believe the Lord would ask the same question.
II Timothy 3:1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
How many sermons have you heard on this section of scripture? But the bigger question is how well have those sermons developed the directive in v.5?
I hope we agree our Father doesn't want us to withdraw from people who don't know Jesus. Jesus hung out with sinners. Having established that, we have to ask ourselves: "where is the danger of people having an appearance (or form) of godliness most pronounced"? I would contend it is in the institutional church system.
So how is an appearance of godliness and a denial of its power manifest these days?
-in churches that believe the supernatural gifts of the Spirit are not for today
This is the worst form of religious reductionism. If Jesus is not the same yesterday today and forever, and continuing the work through us that He started on earth, shut the whole thing down. It is just another useless religious philosophy.
-in churches that PROFESS to believe God can work supernaturally, but there is no spiritual posture of faith to see Him work.
(See above) What is a profession without possession? In Hebrews 11 we learn that without faith it is impossible to please Him. This is not about outburst of faith here and there. It is sustained faith from God working through us to accomplish his purpose on earth as it is in heaven.
-in churches that deny Jesus' true Headship of the Body. They perpetuate the lie that Jesus administers that headship through leaders alone, rather than a vital connection to every member of the body.
When Paul referenced false religion in Colossians 2, he identifies people who don't "hold fast to the Head from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God." Jesus cannot lead a church through one person or a few. He Heads His church through a direct relational connection to every person. And as we are nourished by Him and knit together through joints and ligaments, we grow with a growth that is from God.
-in churches where Christianity is reduced to a sin management program rather than a community of empowered believers with "rivers of living water flowing out of them"
We learn in Hebrews 10, one blessing of the New Covenant is no more consciousness of sin. No, I'm not advocating sinless perfection. I am saying that there's no evidence in the New Testament that we should live in an eternal state of sin consciousness and connection to Adam. If church leaders are making you as a new creation more aware of your connection to Adam than to Jesus, you need to run for your life.
-in churches where empowerment of the body is not a priority
Read Ephesians 4. The goal of 5-fold ministry is not for leaders to showcase their gifts, but to equip you to walk in yours. If that's not happening, we're simply warehousing a crowd of religious people week after week.
-in churches where the myth of a pastor/laity divide is perpetuated on purpose or by default in failing to produce a "priesthood of believers"
If you are a leader, how much do you depend on the body to minister to you other than providing you with a paycheck? Do you open up your life or must you maintain a "safe" distance from them so they don't know who you really are? Jesus lived with his disciples day in/day out. How else would he disciple them? Discipleship is life on life transfer, not simply dispensing theology from behind a pulpit. If they can't see you close up, you're simply putting on a show on Sunday mornings.
-in churches where people are merely informed instead of equipped for every good work
In Acts 1:1, Luke describes how in his gospel he described what Jesus began to "do and teach". Today we have way too much teaching and very little doing.
Some listeners probably bristle hearing Rush Limbaugh in his usual tongue-in-cheek style say "I was made to do what I do and you were made to listen". How different is that from what happens in most churches on Sunday morning. We have the eternal classroom perpetuated all over the nation. The result is an anemic body. Do we really believe there is something spiritual about making people listen to us bloviate week after week?
If the above describes your circumstance, don't walk away... run! Scripture teaches that a little leaven works through the whole batch of dough. This seed of powerless religion is deadly. It will choke the life out of the most zealous of saints.
The responsibility for form without fire lies at the door of church leaders who should know better. While I extend grace as we all should for ignorance, this is an area where leaders should know better. Remember Jesus challening Nicodemus for failing to understand the new birth? “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? (John 3:10) This is why we are warned in James 3:1 that not many of us should be teachers because we will be more harshly judged.
Lest I fall into legalistic error, I also recognize there are some people our Father calls to go "into the system" as a form of outreach. If you are one of those people the Lord has clearly spoken to, more power to you! I do not envy you in the least. But lacking a specific word to entrust ourselves to a lukewarm (or worse) church, I believe we walk in gross presumption no matter our intent. We ignore and disobey the directive in II Timothy 3:5 to our own peril. God forbid that we should linger just as Lot's family did in Sodom.